Beemers. I’m pretty sure that more R series BMWs have been customised than stock ones left the factory. A few years ago our inboxes bulged with Bavarian creations ranging from the sublimely original to the downright monotonous until at some point last summer the world reached Peak Boxer and the venerable twin slowly declined in popularity.
The soaring price of donors didn’t help but that wasn’t the issue, it was down to the ever increasing standards of the builds. Whether it be a seasoned pro outfit or a Fred-in-a-shed tinkerer, the room for hiding anything less than the finest workmanship diminished considerably. Bolt-on bits and kit parts became so easy to buy that all you really needed to build a half decent bike was a Leatherman and a credit card. Expectations of customers wanting a tailor-made bike became stratospheric and unless the bike in front of them had been stripped back to the crank and completely rebuilt with uprated everything they’d simply turn to the left and buy from someone else. Trusty old R80s and R100s were no longer city hacks, they’d become embellished show ponies commanding previously unbelievable prices.
You get the picture but why am I waffling on? Well, because these days it takes a big deal for my jaw to hit the floor, especially when it comes to BMWs. I must have seen twenty hundred of the things, and plenty of awesome ones within that number.
What I’ve also seen loads of are photos of bikes on benches. The builder willing the pixels to somehow morph into the finished machine simply by firing them through the ether. Thankfully there are some guys who you just trust. Trust built on a foundation of continually causing one’s jaw to head south with savage velocity. Tom from Foundry Motorcycles is a man I trust. Ok, I’m biased as I personally like his style, and he’s a thoroughly nice bloke, but what I admire is the stout two finger salute he issues to the normal way of building bikes. His totally bonkers Moto Guzzi Pipeline a definite statement underlining that he had more up his sleeve than super-sexy bobbers.
Like the favourite uncle at your kid’s birthday party Tom doesn’t need an invite to our shows as we know he’ll turn up with a nicely wrapped present under his arm. But boy, for Bike Shed London 2016 uncle Tom really delivered. Within an hour of the bike arriving on setup day my pen had run dry from taking down the phone numbers of people with cash searing a hole in their pockets. But what’s all the fuss about? It’s yet another R whatever with the usual M-upgrades and a bolt on subframe kit, right?
Wrong, that’s like saying a Ural is a BMW just because the cylinders are in a silly place.
This project started five distant years ago when Tom bought a wreck of an R80, promptly parking it in the get around to that one next section of the workshop. The frame, hubs and a few other bits were salvageable but rest would need a full-on overhaul. Hence it lingering for three years before Tom decided to build himself a bike, a cafe racer to his and not a customer’s blueprint. A quick sketch and the design was committed to paper, which is nearly where it stayed. Paying customers continued to take precedent and the Beemer languished on the frame jig gathering dust. But what better deadline is there than one which won’t move. A race weekend or bike show moves for no man so Tom left his family to fend for themselves and unrolled the workshop camp mattress.
One of the first additions was the fuel tank. Made from steel and originally destined for a Moto Guzzi, it’d been hanging on the workshop wall since God was a lad but as soon as it was balanced on the naked frame Tom experienced one of those lightbulb moments. The svelte silhouette and compact curves set the stylistic tone for rest of the bike.
The original bolt-on subframe made the scrap pile and a neat triangulation of narrow tubes now supports the seat pan and upgraded YSS shocks. This subtle arrangement is overshadowed somewhat by the wonderful underseat exhaust arrangement. Mirror polished stainless steel headers run a sinuous route from the barrels, up and over the engine, conjoining beneath the seat and entering a hand rolled collector box. The tubing in the collector is solid-walled and not perforated so heat transfer to the rider is minimal. There’s an additional sandwich of heat shields just in case but Tom reports that the temperatures are perfectly comfortable for everyday riding. Given that there’s so much exhaust surface area ahead of the seat catching the breeze I’m not surprised. The guys down the road at AM Polishing had their work cut out to make sure the multiple welds and joints looked like one continuous metallic snake.
And yes, it is loud but in a growling way. By the time the sound waves have made it to one’s ears they’ve been smashed and banged around so much that the evil and piercing ones have capitulated and become mechanical music as intended.
Fueling the fire isn’t a run-of-the-mill brace of Mikunis or Bings but a socking great big Weber 40 DCOE, a side draught, twin choke carburettor you’d expect to find in a threesome under the bonnet of a D-type Jaguar. Why? “I fitted one as I knew it would look good, make balancing easy and I’m a sucker for doing things just because people say I can’t!” That’s why I like Tom.
He goes on to tell us “Probably the biggest pain of the job was making the inlet manifold which, like the exhaust is also stainless. All of my tube work is done in situ, no CAD or drawings to work from. I cut, grind, weld and file everything until it fits just how I like it.”
“Dialling-in the carb could also be described as a pain when you think that each jet size only varies by .05 of a mm but that fraction of a millimetre makes a vast difference. I have no access to a local rolling road so it is all done by trial and error on the country roads on my doorstep. I now have a large selection of Weber idle and main jets on the shelf but the day I got the combination right made for a sweet ride, it pulls beautifully and sounds more like a MotoGP bike than a BMW.”
Tom is perfectly capable of building an engine, road, race or anything in-between but his real talent lies in what is on display rather than internals. In order to maximise his time on the creative and technical side of things a fully refurbished R80 engine was sourced from Motorworks, complete with unleaded head conversion. If you’re foreign and haven’t heard of them they’re one of the UK’s go-to companies for BMW parts and upgraded engines. Local outfit S.Jago designs painted the cases and barrels to match the frame, providing a sophisticated backdrop to all that polished metal tubing. They also laid-down a good few coats of gunmetal grey on that curvaceous Guzzi tank.
Steve at Scriminger Engine Developments took care of the gearbox rebuild, installing closer ratios and a taller first gear. It now shifts so slickly that Tom is trying to drag him out of retirement for the next project. A decent ‘box on these doesn’t half make a difference to the ride on these old Airheads.
Another Steve, Foundry’s rather handy machinist, made the entire yoke assembly in-house. The steering stem screws up into the top yoke, the bottom yoke is fitted and then a custom fastener assembly locks everything together. The stanchions are brand spankers, in competition with the highly polished ATE fork legs for the shiniest part on the bike award. A pair of turned fork top caps crown the job and highlight why Tom’s customers keep coming back. Those who appreciate good old fashioned, yet slick engineering and find admiring it addictive shouldn’t get too close to a Foundry motorcycle unless their garage has a spare space.
Anyone who’s had one of these bikes apart knows that the wiring isn’t like a trustworthy uncle, no matter how long the service history is, it’ll let you down eventually. Better to bin it and start again. Tom did exactly that and ran a fresh harness to incorporate Motogadget’s M-unit system. With all that work having gone into the yokes there was no way an ignition would be allowed to spoil the view so a Motogadget keyless ignition system lives inside the seat. Switchgear from the same maker replaces the cumbersome originals. A lithium battery provides the power to this lot but has been consigned to a fabricated box beneath the gearbox, leaving the seat space for some actual padding.
Another local firm, Rolls-Royce are renowned for using only the finest Scandinavian hides for their upholstery. They don’t use barbed wire in them there forests so the skins remain blemish free. Tom’s mate Piotr sourced a small piece of this leather in black and Trim Deluxe stitched the ribbed pad.
There are a few over-the-counter parts such as Tarozzi rear sets and clipons, Grimeca levers and Oberon filler cap but Steve (the in-house one) wasn’t allowed to rest for too long. The rear hub has been machined to expose the drum brake internals. Again, why? Because people like me like to see moving bits that are usually hidden out of sight. The wheels are of course rebuilt on new rims, 19 inchers from Morad in this case, and Avon Roadriders are on grip duty.
Despite the efforts of those at the show who were as equally enamoured with this bike as I, a chap called Brett was the first out of the traps and laid a bunch of pound notes across Tom’s palm. Thankfully Brett lives in Aylesbury which isn’t all that far from our Shoreditch HQ so hopefully we’ll get the chance to see the Foundry Motorcycles Café R8cer once again.
Maybe that’s not blatant enough. Brett, ride the bike to our place and I’ll shout you a burger.
Images by Conrad Tracy